For more than 22 years, Professor Zhihui Fang has been impacting students at the University of Florida. With his recent endowment of the Irving and Rose Fien Professorship, he hopes to use his research to transform the way teachers approach reading and writing in content area subjects, a common struggle for many K-12 educators. 

The prestigious Fien professorship is highly regarded and selects applicants who are known nationally and internationally for their research. Throughout the two year program, professors are expected to work collaboratively to complete research and provide leadership in the field of doctoral education. Professors receive $20,000 in funding for research and salary supplements to pursue a research topic of their choosing. 

“I’m fortunate that the committee decided to award it to me and I’m also humbled by the award given the list of people that preceded me.”

Fang is currently a professor and head of reading and literacy education in the School of Teaching and Learning at UF. With more than 100 publications and 200 presentations both nationally and internationally, Fang is well-known for his distinct research and professional leadership. Throughout his career, he has become an expert in language and literacy education, functional linguistics, and teacher education. 


Zhihui Fang

I’m taking full advantage of it to advance my research interests for the common good of the college and the university and profession at large.

Through his current research, he hopes to discover more about how children’s reading skills affect the way they learn in other subjects, such as science or history. He says oftentimes the way children learn to read is very different from the way content area textbooks are written and thus causes comprehension and retention issues. 

His first focus will be on writing a book about how to use functional grammar in the teaching of reading and writing. According to Fang, functional grammar is the powerhouse for making meaning and language is often the primary tool that we use to foster understanding. 

“How do we promote a better understanding of functional grammar? How can we use it in a more effective and functional way so that little kids, college kids, even us, can really make meaning in a way that we intend,” Fang posits.

Another area of research Fang is delving into regards the complexity of nouns in children’s academic writing. 

According to Fang, “One of the key components of writing is nouns – nouns allow you to package information in a way that allows you to distill a large chunk of information into a noun phrase. Nouns help you transition in your writing, help you make references and create entities.”

Fang is currently working with children in the Gainesville community to understand how to improve their noun comprehension. With this research, Fang hopes to analyze the complexity of nouns that children use in their writing which can indicate their language and literacy development. For Fang, the more facility you have with noun phrases and nouns the better you will be able to write academically. Eventually, he’d like to publish his findings and impact the way that teachers view and approach academic reading and writing. 

Next year, Fang will explore research related to how middle school students read and write in the subject of science specifically. He’s eager to learn about the ways students are able to read and write in a science context and if it’s up to a standard that the school values.

“Scientific explanations versus historical arguments require different types of writing. Kids have good content but the way they present the content often presents problems.”

Ultimately, Fang is passionate about improving reading comprehension and writing skills that provide the basis of K-12 education for students. By identifying the barriers to our student’s success, we can ensure that we’re creating a curriculum that acknowledges and works around them. 

For Fang, the past 22 years at the University of Florida have been a time of growth for both him and the college. According to Fang, our gifted and dedicated faculty, support from the college and talented students combined have made the UF College of Education the leader in academic excellence throughout the years.

“The support is there. UF really supports its faculty in doing things that make a difference in K- 12 education.” 

For Fang, this professorship is more than an opportunity to do research. 

“I’m very appreciative of this professorship support. I’m taking full advantage of it to advance my research interests for the common good of the college and the university and profession at large. I’m very honored, humbled and grateful for the support.”